Many members of the Lawrence community gathered for a “Save Our Schools” rally outside school district offices Monday.
Despite an hourlong wait as the board met behind closed doors to discuss the evaluation of Superintendent Anthony Lewis, roughly 30 people gave public comment in support of neighborhood schools that could face closures as the district tries to deal with ongoing budget issues.
Among those public commenters were some very young speakers who shared with the board their experiences attending their neighborhood schools.
A New York Elementary fifth-grader told the board that she and her siblings have attended that school “all six years, including Kindergarten.”
“I have loved all my teachers and friends at New York. I’m scared about being around so many new students at a bigger middle school where I would have fewer of my New York friends around. Please don’t close the schools.”
A Liberty Memorial Central Middle School seventh-grader reflected on attending Woodlawn Elementary.
“Woodlawn was one of the places I felt happiest because it didn’t just feel like a school. It felt like a family, a little community where I was important,” the student said. “… Because of the teachers there, I know how to challenge myself to advocate for my needs and my education. I had teachers there who inspired me more than anyone could ever believe; who convinced me I could write — and not just that I could, but that what I wrote was important and wonderful.”
Numerous parents — many of them also alumni of Lawrence schools — shared their experiences, too. Some spoke of how they came to Lawrence for the schools and how their child’s school had profound positive impacts on their families.
Board members and Superintendent Anthony Lewis reminded those in attendance that no decisions have been made, and Lewis shared a more detailed timeline with a little bit more time for decisions than what district staff has previously said:
The timeline shows that the board must decide whether to publish notices for public hearings on closing one or more schools on Feb. 14. If so, those public hearings would be held on or around March 9. The board would make final decisions on April 11.
Recently elected board member Andrew Nussbaum raised some concerns about the process and discussion of school closures. He said that on Friday, he had visited the school buildings that could face closures — New York, Pinckney, Broken Arrow, Woodlawn and Hillcrest elementaries and LMCMS.
“I got to hear themes of sadness and hope; I got to experience people who are really scared and shocked, who are really trying to figure out how to create collective energy and power and what to do about this,” he said. “I got to experience a lot of people in these buildings saying that they have not been welcomed into conversations and are not knowing what to do next.”
He mentioned an equity tool that district leaders and board members have said will be used to evaluate closure proposals.
“I still have not seen the equity analysis tool that we’re saying we’re going to use to siphon through or put a microscope on these recommendations,” he said, and he noted the tight timeline for the final decisions. “That’s concerning to me that we still don’t have that in front of me or in front of the community.”
The next meetings that likely will discuss school closures and other cost-cutting proposals are coming up quickly.
The district’s Boundaries Advisory Committee will meet again from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 26, and the Budget and Program Evaluation Committee will meet from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Both meeting will be at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.
The school board’s next scheduled meeting is set for Feb. 14, but Lewis said there could still be a meeting added on Monday, Jan. 31. All meetings will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel.